Stories I Probably Won’t Get Around To Writing: The Silent and The Dead

March 17th, 2014  |  Published in Uncategorized, writing

Okay, let’s say that there’s a zombie outbreak and virtually everyone gets infected (99% or more).  What would that look like? I’m going to use Olympia as an example, as that is where I live.

The average population density of Thurston County (where Olympia is located) is 347 people/square mile. This could be better (the average for the US is 88) but it could be a whole lot worse (Los Angeles County has a population density of 2,100 people/square mile). Assuming “Walking Dead” style zombies, with a small group, you should be able to clear a square mile without too much trouble over the course of a week. The problem comes in when people get guns. Something like an assault rifle might be audible as far away as five miles. With sustained shooting, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that you would draw every zombie within a three mile radius. Not so bad, right? Wrong. A three mile radius gives you an area of a little over 28 square miles, with 347 zombies per square mile, you’re talking about nearly 10,000 zombies.

Now, let’s say that you’re a survivalist shooting zombies from their roof. Even with a 100% accuracy rate, you would be talking about 10,000 rounds, and at 28 pounds/1000 rounds, you would be talking about 280 pounds of ammunition, just to give you an idea of the amount of supplies you would need. Furthermore, what would 10,000 zombies look like? Shoulder to shoulder, that many people would take up something like one and a half football fields. In any case, I think that you get the picture. Things would not be good for our lone survivalist with his buried gold, canned food, and mountain of ammunition. I wouldn’t write about him.

Instead, I would write about the sort of group that would survive the math of the situation. They would need to be competent, not necessarily at killing zombies, but in organizing themselves as a group. A disorganized or fractious group of people with weapons doesn’t have many more choices than the a single armed person (in fact they may even have fewer, as their resource footprint would increase with their size). Weapons are force multipliers for individuals. Organization, on the other hand, is a force multiplier for groups.

The group would find a defensible place with a source of fresh water (and as far from survivalist types as practicable), and they would secure that area as quietly as possible, then gradually move out, clearing the area around them.  Once they had carved out a large enough area for themselves, they would create zombie traps, basically pits with sound emitting things (perhaps a shishi odishi for zombies?) scattered around the area’s perimeter. Every day or so, someone would head out the pits, dump in some gasoline, and burn the day’s zombies.

Wouldn’t they need that gasoline for their cars? No. First of all, gasoline goes bad and eventually will not work in your engines (but will probably still be viable for burning some zombies). Second, cars are loud (see the bit about drawing zombies to you above) and require cleared roads or paths. Finally, gasoline production would cease at the zombie outbreak (or shortly thereafter), and the group would soon find itself scavenging farther and farther away just to fuel their vehicles.

So what sort of stories would take place in this setting? First of all, there wouldn’t be much soap opera (which isn’t to say that it would be entirely absent, either), as it requires a fractious group and would likely get everyone killed before long. Instead, the story would probably focus on the various struggles from within the group, such as how decisions are made, and how to deal with divisive issues (51-49 votes are terrible for morale, see congress). The group would have to decide on its relationship to other survivors. I’m sure that there would be plenty of stories to tell in this setting. The main difference is that it wouldn’t be as annoying as much of what you see being made these days, which either assumes that people are basically bad (it seems to me that our world is an example of the opposite) or that people want to watch petty squabbling, or both.

In any case, I probably won’t write this, or at least not any time soon, but wanted to share the ideas anyway. If you do want to write it, feel free.

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Free Stuff

March 3rd, 2014  |  Published in announcement

Apparently, this week is Read an Ebook Week. So, through Saturday, March 8th, you can get everything that I have available on Smashwords for free. Granted, most of it was free already, but if you wanted to snag a copy of Caldera, Heist (the most recent Horizon Station story), Try Not To Panic, The Press, or The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, now is your chance. Instructions are up on the site, but the short of it is that you will enter RW100 as a coupon and the books will then be free.

If you aren’t familiar with Smashwords, it is a digital self publishing platform, kind of like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. There are some key differences, however, in that it gives the author a lot more control over their books and that it is much friendlier for the reader. When you get a book directly through Smashwords (they also distribute through just about everyone but Amazon), you can download it for your Kindle, your Nook, as a generic epub, a printer-friendly PDF or RTF, or read it online (among other options). The upshot of this is that you aren’t locked into a particular marketplace or device. If you want to share the book, you can, there is no DRM (although this is somewhat discouraged in the license text at the front of each book, but I would rather you share my stuff than keep it to yourself, license be damned).

If, for whatever reason, you feel bad about downloading one of my books for free (whatever the provenance of that free book) and want to help me out, just leave a review of it and we’ll be more than even. Happy eReading!

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What does your ringtone say about you?

February 3rd, 2014  |  Published in commentary

So I have this theory (okay, I have a lot of theories, most of them likely wrong, but bear with me), and if you started this article by reading the title, you might have guessed that my theory is about classifying people by their cell phone ringtones. Yes, I realize that I am painting with the broadest of brushes and that I have a definite preference for not being aware of other people trying to contact you while I’m talking to you, but this blog has been on my To-Blog list for over a year now, so I kind of have to write it down at this point, as it has reached the internet age of majority and will soon sue me for confinement. So what does your ringtone say about you? I’ll divide this into two portions: volume and type of tone. After going through this, you will be a better person.

Volume

The volume at which you have your ringtone set says a lot about how you view the people in close personal proximity to you. Here is the range:

  • LOUD: The people who are near you, physically, are nowhere near as important as whoever might call you. And how could they be? You already know all about them, they’re right there next to you, after all. Chances are, the people you hang out with share many of your values, and so their cellphones are set just as loud as yours. Alternatively, you might have hearing loss.
  • Moderate: Most of the people who call you are actually people you might need to talk to, and although you want to make sure that you don’t miss the call, you also don’t want to annoy the people around you. This would also be the setting for someone who would normally be the LOUD personality type but is forced to adopt a less irritating persona for the sake of appearances (think corporate executives).
  • quiet: The people around you are more important than those far removed, but occasionally you do need to hear what the person on the other end of the metaphorical line has to say, though if you miss it the world will not immediately go off the rails.
  • vibrate: You find buzzing things to be calming. Or more likely, you aren’t planning on answering your phone but you want plausible deniability (“Sorry, didn’t feel it go off, but I can’t turn it up at work. No, I don’t have a reason for why it took a week to get back to you. What, the problem has resolved itself without my intervention? Splendid. I think my work is done here. Bye.”). You are a good person.
  • silent: Answering your phone is simply not a priority. Not as in low on your priority list, but more akin to not on the list at all. Alternately, you might have AT&T and so have long since given up on actually being able to use your phone as a phone. Either way, you may want to talk to someone about that.

Tone

Whereas the volume of a cell’s ringer indicates how a person views the world, their tone is all about how they perceive themselves or want themselves to be perceived.

  • Music: Either you really like listening to music in short, randomly spaced snippets or feel that dressing just like your friends leaves a little to be desired in the individuality business.
  • Preloaded Quasi-Musical Ringtone: Just like the Music type above but attaching a much lower value to individuality. Alternately, you might just be trying to prove how hip you are.
  • Theme Song to Quantum Leap: You want the rest of the world to recognize your awesomeness, but instead finds that whenever your phone goes off you look for whoever that cool person is with the cool ringtone only to realize that the cool person is you and your phone is about to go to voicemail.
  • Combination of Beeps and Tones: You hold tight to the outdated idea that a ringtone’s job is to alert you to an incoming call. You probably don’t even have a colorful protective case. If you are not in this category, avoid these people, they might attempt to convince you that individuality is about the way you live your life, not how you decorate it. If you are in this category, it is probably too late for you.
  • Silent/Vibrate: You don’t believe in ringtones and are probably actually a luddite who only grudgingly goes along with societal norms. Get help now.

Conclusion

So there you go, you can tell everything you might ever need to know about a person simply by the volume and tone of their phone. All without ever having to actually get to know them. Think of how much time this is going to save you!

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Recursive Geekiness

January 6th, 2014  |  Published in announcement, logic, writing

I’m about 7,700 words in on the Broken Shores story that I’m currently working on and I’ve started to run into some problems, namely that I need to know where everyone on the island is at a given time. This isn’t an insurmountable problem, as there are only seven people on the island, but it can be a bit tricky. One way to do it would be to just write things so that people are wherever the story needs them to be. This approach would be fine if I were only writing a single story in the setting, but as it is part of a larger series, it would lead to inconsistency. So on my lunch break last Saturday, I went ahead and started to make a schedule, which is where the title comes from (sitting in a room full of people, some of whom I enjoy talking to, using my phone/keyboard combination to create a spreadsheet that tracks the schedule of fiction people on a fictional island in a fictional world, and I couldn’t use a regular calendar program because my world has eight-day-long weeks due to my decision to play around with calendar stuff, raise your hand if you feel normal now).

The work will likely pay off as it will make writing the story much easier, but it brought up something else that I found interesting, as well. Making the schedule I learned a lot about the island, such as who was likely to be close to whom and how important seniority was. In addition, it helped to define the group dynamic, after all not everyone can have the best schedule, creating tension. Finally, it will likely result in the stories being more interesting, as it places some limits on who is available at any given moment. For example, if Emera needs help, the best person to provide that help might be Ran, but what if he is on watch? What if he is dead tired from a long stretch of work? Emera now needs to either find someone else or find some way of convincing him to help her despite very good reasons not to. This is much more interesting than being able to simply write: Emera found Ran and asked for help or having to make up reasons for him not to help her. It will also likely feel more realistic, more relatable to those of us who have to work around scheduling conflicts.

In short, if I had to sum it up in a rule concise observation, the more you know about the world you’re creating in your fiction, the easier it will be to make that fiction interesting. I’m sure that I’m not the first person to say this (in fact, I recall hearing a piece of advice that when you run into a dead end, find out what your character’s hobbies are), but it bears repeating. Also, I think that this applies to all kinds of fiction, whether it be speculative or straight literature set in modern day Chicago, there are things that won’t be immediately obvious about a given character, and if you find yourself running into a lot of walls in your writing, you might want to take the time to dig a little and learn something new about them.

On a final note, I think that this has some bearing on the nature of creativity. Creativity is often viewed as creating something entirely new, or recombining existing elements in an interesting fashion (I personally believe the latter is vastly more common than the former, if you doubt me, go spend some time at TV Tropes), but that is only the starting point. Good narrative is two things: something new and the logical consequences of that something new. If you do only the first, you get a confused mess, if you do only the second (logical consequences sans something new) you get something even worse, boredom. I will end by disagreeing with Einstein, who said “Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Imagination can take you to fantastic new places, but without logic, you will find yourself earthbound, wherever you may land.

And now for some shameless self-promotion. I’ve written two stories that are part of the particular storyline I’m talking about, “Induction” and “Trust and Vulnerability“. They’re free and you should really check them out. “Induction” is also available (for free) on Smashwords for just about any format, I hope to get the rest of Broken Shores up there as well, this year.

2013 Recap

December 30th, 2013  |  Published in announcement

If you have been listening, you will know that this blog has been silent for most of the year. Sorry about that. The primary reason is that 2013 was my first full year as a father, which has been an all-around wonderful experience but one that has taken a large chunk out of my free time. Fair warning, 2014 will likely follow a similar path, although I do hope to spend a bit more time on the blog. Enough about that, what have I been doing besides parenting?

I read less than I did in 2012, but not by too much, according to goodreads I read 103 books this year. I did do a couple of interesting things on the reading front, however. First of all, I made a goal of finishing as many series as possible, having started many and left them hanging. These included the Virga series, the Magister trilogy, the Family Trade series, the Wheel of Time, and probably others that don’t come to mind at the moment. The second thing I did that I plan on repeating was to read nothing but short stories in the month of May (which is Short Story Appreciation Month). I read and listened to a whole lot of stuff, some of which was good some of which wasn’t. If you are a writer, you should give this a shot, as I had more story ideas during that month than during any other (a couple of which I may even get around to writing in 2014, more on that later). It was refreshing. Below is a list of the books which I have given five stars on goodreads this year, I would recommend all of them, but keep in mind that a few might fall in the middle of a series.

  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
  • Antiagon Fire by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Who Owns the Future by Jaron Lanier
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff
  • The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  • Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich
  • Colors of Chaos by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
  • Sleepless by Charlie Huston
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  • Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
  • Imager’s Battalion by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green
  • Concrete Planet by Robert Courland
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  • Princeps by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan
  • Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

If my reading didn’t suffer much from parenthood, my writing can’t say the same. I don’t keep meticulous track of what and how much I write, but I did finish several short stories, none of which have been published, yet. I also managed to get some of my older stuff up on Amazon and Smashwords. Also, I succeeded in completely neglecting this blog.

So what do I have planned for 2014? First of all, I hope to get a post (even a short one) up at least once a month, hopefully more frequently. Second, I want to clear off my physical to-read shelf at home, as I have promised myself that I will not buy any more physical books unless I can fit them on it. I plan on revisiting my short story reading in May. Finally, I wrote a short story, There Are No Words, which has yet to find a home despite positive feedback from several editors. I have been convinced to turn it into a novel by writing more stories in the world that form an overarching plot. We’ll see if I succeed or not. I will begin with that as soon as I finish the rough draft of the Broken Shores story I’m working on (I think that I’ve finally figured it out, so it should go quickly from here, I hope). I also hope to write at least one other story that I came up with the idea for last May.

In any case, it has been a fantastic year and I can only hope that yours has equalled or surpassed it. Happy 2014!

Caldera, finally.

September 10th, 2013  |  Published in announcement

Whew, that was a long silent stretch. Silent but not unproductive, I should have something to show for my efforts before too long. In the meantime, I have finally posted the final draft of Caldera, an epic fantasy novella. It was one of the first stories that I wanted to write, and putting it up for sale feels like a milestone, although time will tell as to the accuracy of that feeling.

Without further ado, you can find the excerpt on this site, and you can buy the full version from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Apple, and most other ebook stores.

 

caldera-cover-web

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It is June now

June 3rd, 2013  |  Published in announcement

Wow, I’m going to call May a wash. On one hand, I read/listened to a lot of short fiction, some of which was good, some of which was great, and some of which was terrible. On the other hand, between the eight month old child to watch and spending a week in Colorado, I got very little writing done. I’m still working on Assassination, and hope to finish the rough draft of that soon (but no promises), I ended up having to rewrite more of it from scratch than I had originally anticipated, but I’m happy with where it has headed. I also have three other stories crowding my head, largely thanks to the short fiction that I read this past month, and I hope to give those voice soon.

Next week I hope to have a post about logic and literacy for you, and I’ll keep you updated about my progress. In the meantime, if you want something strage, wonderful, and obscene, you should give this bacon filled story a listen: Spar (The Bacon Remix). But enough about that, I’m going to try and get some more writing done before I have to go to work.

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Conversational Overload

May 24th, 2013  |  Published in ShoStoWriMo

Sorry about the radio silence, I spent a week in Colorado, which was nice but prevented me from getting any real writing done (although I did produce a bunch of notes for upcoming stories). I did get some reading done, however.

It is often said that Speculative Fiction (and I would argue all of fiction) is one big conversation stretching back to the first time someone said “What if . . .” This conversation isn’t always obvious, there is no comprehensive guide that will tell you what a particular story was responding to or if it was the basis for a new thread of conversation. In my experience, the only way to pick it out is to read a lot of it and tease out the connections on your own.

Anyone who writes a story is part of that conversation, which is one of the reasons that I love short fiction, because you don’t have to write a novel to participate (which isn’t to say that writing short fiction is any easier than writing a novel). This month I have been making a concerted effort to read a lot of short fiction, an effort in which I have been moderately successful (I’ve still been reading an ebook novel before I go to sleep every night, but that is largely because the anthology I wanted to read in that time slot is, somehow, not available as an ebook).

I have read some good stories, a lot of mediocre ones, and a few that have been just bad. The good ones are very entertaining, and the bad ones are unfortunate, but it is the middle category that creates a problem. I have read a number of stories to which I really want to respond, in story form. Of course, I’m already working on something. So I make notes and push them out of my mind. Then my frustrated subconscious starts pushing stories into my head fully-formed, stories which I do not have the time to write at present.

I feel full to bursting with stories, and it is frustrating. But I should stop whining, it’s better than writers block after all. In any case, I should get some work done on Assassination so that I can placate my subconscious before it kills me.

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A First Draft

May 7th, 2013  |  Published in ShoStoWriMo

I haven’t really gotten much writing done this past week. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t wanted to, but rather that I haven’t made enough time to do so (and to be fair, some of this is out of my control). In fact, as I have been consuming a bunch of short fiction, in the form of Diverse Energies, Podcastle, and Escape Pod (and then At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees and High-Tech Gothic), I have had a lot of ideas for stories, which is frustrating as I can only work on one at a time. One of the great thing about Speculative Fiction is that, once you read enough of it, the outlines of a great conversation begin to emerge (a similar phenomenon can be found in philosophy), and the more of that conversation that I see, the more I want to participate (and in the case of short fiction, the more attainable that participation is). At the moment, there really isn’t much to do about it, other than to make notes about the stories I want to write (which are great to have for when you sit down to write but aren’t able to come up with a story, by the way). But enough about that, this post is titled “A First Draft”.

Back when I first started to work on Broken Shores, while I was still figuring out how the world worked (I hadn’t figured out what to call it, if I recall correctly), I wrote a short story with the working title of “Assassination”. I liked this story, but Broken Shores went a different direction, and I shelved it. But I have always wanted to dust it off, and make it work, but every time I looked at it, I was daunted by how much would need to change (almost all of it). Well, fuck it. I’m going to make it work, and you get to see the process. Just remember that what follows is a ROUGH DRAFT, and will be full of errors (continuity, plot, grammar, and otherwise) and represents a direction that the Broken Shores setting could have gone, but didn’t. Really, I want you to go into this expecting less than nothing. If you continue to read beyond this point, you will never get those minutes of your life back, and I cannot be held responsible, so don’t bother asking. Also, although I dislike doing it, I’m going to put a page break after the first scene, which I hope doesn’t mess with the feed/email subscriptions, but if it does I’m sorry. Feedback is welcome, just keep in mind, there is much necrotic tissue that is already marked for removal. Without further ado:

Assasination (working title)

by Tom Dillon

FIRST DRAFT (“here there be errors”) / 6.27.2008 / approximately 6,200 words

“We must never forget our history, what our forefathers went through to ensure our safety.  We have become complacent, and there is nothing to stop another disaster from occurring.  My opponent insists that the time for caution is over, that the threat is past, but it is not.  If anything, it is greater than ever.”  Senator Burien’s words blended into the noise of the crowd as something else caught Devin’s attention.

The man was easy to spot, moving quickly through a crowd that seemed to sway sluggishly in Devin’s ramped-up state.   She didn’t bother to signal as she braced herself, the guards on the perimeter had already done so.  The guards on the stage with her noticed as well, and she heard a series of thunks from their crossbows just moments before a few quarrels embedded themselves in the man’s chest.

The bolts didn’t slow the man down, he kept on dodging through the crowd as one of his hands plucked the quarrels from his chest and the other drew a long knife.  The guards that were closest to Senator Burien bunched up, making a human wall in front of him.  Even if the assassin got through them, they would slow him down enough for Devin and the rest of the guards to do their jobs.

Then the assassin jumped.  His momentum carried him in a smooth arc over the guards’ heads.  He ducked his head and crossed his arms in front of him just in time for the metal plates on his forearms to deflect three or four more quarrels.

He landed to the left of the main bunching of guards, in between them and her.  He ricocheted off of them, heading straight for her.  For a moment, his face was nearly touching hers, and she could see the tinge of blue under a layer of powder.  Then she felt her dagger slide along one of his ribs.  It caught, then he shoved off of her causing the blade to snap off as she lost her balance.

Even ramped up as she was, it was over by the time she regained her feet.  Senator Burien was on the ground, the assassin’s knife protruding from his temple.  It wouldn’t matter how much Ve they pumped into him, there was no coming back from something like that.

Read the rest of this entry »

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ShoStoWriMo ’13

May 1st, 2013  |  Published in announcement

Regrettably, I will not be running ShoStoWriMo this year. I had hoped to, but the reality of the situation is that I wouldn’t be able to do it properly (I have an 8 month old son at home and am taking a trip in the middle of the month). I will not be putting up a forum, but I was planning on moving away from that anyway (keeping the spammers away was a itself a job). Still want to participate? The good news is that ShoStoWriMo isn’t a thing, its a protocol, to participate, all you have to do is write a short story this month. That being said, here is an idealized schedule if you want to follow one:

  • May 1-9: Write the rough draft of your short story. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, just get it down. A good length to shoot for is 3,500 – 6,000 words, but shorter or longer works, too.
  • May 10-17: Give feedback, get feedback. Spend a week away from your story, preferably reading and providing feedback for others who are doing the same.
  • May 17-21: Revise. Take that feedback that you gathered and do a second draft. When you’re done, send it back out for more feedback.
  • May 22-30: Polish and share. Do more drafts, get more feedback. Read some published short stories to see how others have done it in the past.
  • May 31: Celebrate! Congratulations, you have a short story that has gone through the revision process and is ready to post, sell, publish, whatever you want to do with it.

Since I’m not setting up a forum, I went ahead and created a Facebook page for ShoStoWriMo to help people connect with other people. In the next couple of days, I might add a Google+ one as well.

I will be trying to participate, but due to time constraints, I’m setting a conservative goal of just writing a short story this month. I’ll keep you posted about how its going. Also, I plan on writing a couple of blog posts about the medium, so let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover.

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